I’m currently working on a longer essay about the weird shake-up between left and right politics that the pandemic brought forth, but before that one sees the light of day, I’d like to ask you an important question, which you can answer in the comments section below.
How can you see yourself, or humans in general, benefitting the natural world? How can we give back to the living order in some form of reciprocity for all the gifts of life it has bestowed upon us? Is this even possible in your opinion, or are humans doomed to be takers only, like some aberrant lifeform set loose on the natural world? Often we focus our efforts on minimizing our impact, with the tacit assumption that our impact can only be negative, therefore the less of it the better. But what if our impact could be positive?
And I’d like you to think beyond just repairing the damage already done; think about how we might go further and use our aptitudes for technology and understanding to make this planet an even more welcoming home for all of life. To reintegrate ourselves back into the ecosystem from which we emerged. To assume the responsibilities that come with being a keystone species. To figure out what humans’ unique contribution to life might be.
Other species do it. Earthworms aerate and fertilize the soil, legumes “fix” atmospheric nitrogen into the earth in a form that plants can utilize, beavers create rich wetlands, trees clean the air, predators manage prey populations, squirrels plant tree seeds, phytoplankton sequester carbon, ants provide grounds cleaning services, and fungi help break down wood into soil. The rest of the world seems engaged in a give-and-take ecological economy that if added up would balance out at zero – no one species taking more than it gives in the end.
Why do humans seem to stand outside this multi-billion year evolutionary dance? We take way more than our fair share of resources and create waste streams so impregnated with toxic chemicals that few of our Earthly co-habitants can do anything with it. Every year, we convert more and more of the Earth’s finite molecules into piles of useless garbage. We are actively de-enlivening the planet – taking a rich biosphere that evolved from lifeless minerals and rolling in back to its more inanimate origins. In its place grow our structures and machines, our sterile farmlands, our pavement, our landfills, and more and more of us.
But humans haven’t always been this way. In fact, in all of homo sapiens’ 300,000 year history, only the last few thousand have been problematic, particularly the last few hundred. As recently as 500 years ago, millions of our species lived in harmony with all the varied ecosystems of the 14,000 km stretch north to south of the Americas. The survivors of the genocide perpetrated on them by invading Europeans live here still today, and hold answers to the question I’m asking, as indigenous peoples do in other corners of the world, living in the shadows of colonialism.
But how many of the settler people, of whom I am one, can still even fathom how to be of service to the Earth? We seem to have totally forgotten.
I have some ideas of my own, but I’m keen to hear what other people have to say. This might be the most important question facing humanity, and the rest of life, today. I strongly suspect that we humans can’t keep living thinking of ourselves as outsiders to the natural world for much longer, and in our own demise we could set life back by millions of years. We will either realize we are intricately interconnected to this biosphere, or it will forcefully reassert that reality in ways our species will not like. Our illusion of disconnection is at best a temporary mirage.
And for a bonus question, if you’re up for it: what can we do to foster in humanity the will and ability to see our connection to nature and the desire to respect that bond? Because belief always precedes action. We’ve got the inertia of at least 2,500 years of the wrong kind of beliefs behind Western civilization, propelling us forward towards the cliff. It’s a big ship to turn around, but more and more people can now clearly see the cliff, so perhaps in the end the urge for self-preservation will prove stronger than the myth of freedom from nature.
Please make your voices heard below.